Farmers and duck hunters are well known for lamenting the weather forecast, which makes it doubly tough on Steve Prather of Leland.
He is both a farmer and an avid duck hunter — a guide, as a matter of fact, for Mississippi Delta Hunters.
So take him at his word when he says no matter the forecast you just have to plow through it.
“The long-range forecast for this winter’s weather doesn’t look good according to the ‘Farmer’s Almanac,’” Prather said. “The forecast for (the Delta) is calling for drier and warmer conditions than normal.”
Drier conditions don’t bother Prather, at least not as far as his duck hunting business goes. He pumps all the water he needs on several impoundments and fields that comprise the 3,200 acres he and his guides have available for duck hunting.
“It’s not even the warmer weather here that concerns me,” the guide said. “What I’m hoping for is some cold, hard weather up north. If they get 6 feet of snow all the way from Canada to Memphis, it would suit me just fine.
“That would push all the ducks in the Mississippi Flyway to right here.”
Whether you believe in the “Farmer’s Almanac” or not, Prather said a repeat of last year’s results would be outstanding for duck hunters looking to travel over to the Delta to spend some steel.
Last year the guide said that greenheads — the highly prized mallard drakes —were the number one species he and his guides saw, and the numbers of other birds in the mix was also on the rise.
“I’m really happy to report a rise in the number of pintails that we have seen in this area over the last five years,” Prather said. “Last year if we had 10 hunters come here with just one goal, to shoot a mature pintail drake, six of them left here with one and all of them had at least five shots at one.”
As part of Mississippi Delta Hunts, Prather and his duck guides split their time between both natural areas — sloughs, creeks and lakes — and manmade impoundments. He said the mallards and gadwalls provide the most challenging hunting in the flooded timber of cypress sloughs while the pintails and green-wing teal are more prone to the open areas.
“We killed a lot of green-wing teal here all season last year because we had the same conditions, warmer than average weather,” Prather said. “The blue-wing teal are the birds we get here in September during the early waterfowl season and they’re in Mexico by the time the Green wings show up here.”
With reports of decent or similar successes during the two three-day weekend waterfowl seasons that occurred over Thanksgiving and the weekend after, there are high hopes for the meat of the waterfowl season that started in early December and runs out on January 29.
Birds winging their way south on their annual migrations will find plenty of rice, corn, and beans to either refuel them for the rest of the journey or sustain them through the winter.
Prather said he and his guides have spent all spring and summer farming his acreage, located in Washington and Bolivar Counties and the table is set for a big Christmas dinner and holiday season banquet for the birds.
Prather said food, weather, and water are the key ingredients in any duck hunting success story, but another huge factor to be considered is hunting pressure. The duck hunting community has swelled with new recruits, thanks in large part to clothing fashions where duck hunting gear is just as at home in the suburbs as it is in the duck blind.
The last five years of the most highly rated non-fiction cable TV series Duck Dynasty, which recently announced its last season on television, has also swelled the duck hunting ranks 10-fold as duck hunting has become cool again.
“The secret to balancing out hunting pressure is not to overhunt the areas you have,” said Prather. “We rotate our blinds, we have over 30 pit blinds and a large number of portable and floating blinds. We never hunt more than five guns in a pit. That not only helps your bird numbers but it makes it more enjoyable for the hunter.”
Phillip Cagle of White Oak Hunting Services in Tunica County, couldn’t agree more with Prather’s weather sentiments. Cagle he doesn’t put a lot of stock in the Farmer’s Almanac, but he’ll take the colder weather to the north and wouldn’t even mind a string of bluebird days. Bright, clear, and sunny are his favorite conditions for killing ducks.
“It’s opposite of what most people think,” said Cagle. “A cold, rainy, dreary, overcast day might seem like duck hunting weather, but in those conditions, the ducks can spot you and your blind from a mile away. On a cold, bright, sunny day, the glare off the water is the best camouflage you could ask for.”
Cagle’s favorite duck hunting scenarios are (1) frozen days inland where he can get out on the Mississippi River and (2) blue bird days standing in the flooded timber.
During the late season, Cagle offered that less is often more when it comes to duck hunting — less calling, less decoys, and more ducks.
When he and his hunting parties are standing in the green cypress timber, it’s more camo, less movement and better duck hunting
“I’ll use the mojos, the spinning wing decoys, during the early seasons, but rarely or never in the late season,” said Cagle. “Ducks have seen that on every stop between here and Canada and they get shot at when they come in to look. I’d much rather use a jerk string, something that creates ripples and looks natural during the late season.”
Cagle also said scouting is a key component too consistently killing ducks. He said what separates him from the Duck Dynasty followers is that you have to put your time in days before and the afternoons between hunts if you are going to consistently sty in contact with migrating flocks of birds.
“I burn up a lot of diesel in my truck checking all the holes that I know are likely to hold ducks,” he said. “Scouting from a distance is great. You don’t bother the ducks and it gives you a view of the big picture. You can see where they are coming from and where they are going to.”
Cagle finds he doesn’t have the luxury of viewing the timber from afar. He can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak and what’s worse is he can’t see the birds for the trees.
“You’ve got to go in the timber to find ducks,” he said. “The bad part is that if you go in there on the afternoon before the next morning’s hunt, you’ll blow them out and they may not get back in time for you to hunt them.”
Cagle suggests making personal visits to the green timber for scouting purposes several days in advance of a hunt. If you do spook birds, it’s best to just make note of what you saw and back out, leaving the area to rest for a couple of days.
“We’ve had some good hunts, everyone standing hip deep in the water and hiding behind a tree,” said Cagle. “Its some of the best Mississippi Delta duck hunting you’ll find.”